Born: 02 March 1911, Bunclody, County Wexford
Entered: 01 September 1928, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 08 January 1944, Pymble, Australia
Professed: 03 February 1947
Died: 04 December 1984, Lisheen, Rathcoole, County Dublin
Chaplain in the Second World War.
Middle Brother of Brendan - RIP 1993 and Ray - RIP 2001;
Early education at Clongowes Wood College Sj
Transcribed HIB to HK - 03 December 1966; HK to MAC-HK; MAC-HK to CHN
by 1937 at Aberdeen, Hong Kong - Regency
by 1941 at Pymble NSW, Australia - studying
◆ Hong Kong Catholic Archives :
Death of Father Donald Lawler, S.J.
Father Donald Lawler, SJ, formerly of Wah Yan College, Hong Kong, died in Ireland on Tuesday, 4 December 1984, after a very long illness, aged 73.
Father Lawler was born in Ireland in 1911 and joined the Jesuits in 1928. He came to Hong Kong in 1936. After two years of study of Cantonese, he taught for two years in Wah Yan College, Hong Kong. He then studied theology in Australia and was ordained priest there in 1944. After a final year of Jesuit formation in Ireland, he returned to Hong Kong in 1946 and was senior Science Master in Wah Yan College, Hong Kong, for thirty years. He suffered a stroke in 1976, and for the rest of his life was as invalid sinking steadily into ever more complete helplessness as the years went by. About five years ago he was brought by hospital plane to Ireland, where the care of his elder brother, also a Jesuit, helped to mitigate the hardship imposed such prolonged illness.
Death came gently.
Sunday Examiner Hong Kong - 14 December 1984
◆ Irish Province News
Irish Province News 20th Year No 2 1945
Frs. J. Collins, D. Lawler and P. Toner, of the Hong Kong Mission, who finished theology at Pymble last January, were able to leave for Ireland some time ago, and are expected in Dublin after Easter.
Irish Province News 22nd Year No 1 1947
Departures for Mission Fields in 1946 :
4th January : Frs. P. J. O'Brien and Walsh, to North Rhodesia
25th January: Frs. C. Egan, Foley, Garland, Howatson, Morahan, Sheridan, Turner, to Hong Kong
25th July: Fr. Dermot Donnelly, to Calcutta Mission
5th August: Frs, J. Collins, T. FitzGerald, Gallagher, D. Lawler, Moran, J. O'Mara, Pelly, Toner, to Hong Kong Mid-August (from Cairo, where he was demobilised from the Army): Fr. Cronin, to Hong Kong
6th November: Frs. Harris, Jer. McCarthy, H. O'Brien, to Hong Kong
Irish Province News 60th Year No 1 2 1985
Fr Donald Lawlor (1911-1928-1984) (Macau-Hong Kong)
2nd March 1911: born in Bunclody, Co Wexford. 1st September 1928: entered SJ. 1928-30 Tullabeg, noviciate. 1930-33 Rathfarnham, juniorate (physics and chemistry to B. Sc.), 1933-36 Tullabeg, philosophy. 1936-40 Hong Kong (study of Cantonese. 1938-40 teaching in Wah Yan College, Hong Kong). 1940-45 Australia, theology (Pymble, NSW: ordained priest in 1944). 1945-46 Rathfarnham, tertianship. 1946-78 Wah Yan College, Hong Kong, teaching science chiefly. 1979-84 Lisheen nursing home, Rathcoole, Co Dublin.
The following notice of Fr Lawler, written by Fr Alan Birmingham (M-HK), has been copied from Macau-Hong Kong Province Letter no. 265 (12: 1984):
On Tuesday 4th December, Fr Vincent Murphy telephoned from Ireland to tell us that Don Lawler had died a few hours earlier. Everyone's first reaction was one of gratitude for the ending of Don's long Purgatory on earth. There was of course shock in learning that the companion of so many years was no longer in this world, but it would have been hypocritical conventionalism to pretend to sorrow over his death. The Don of the crystal clear mind, the Don of the lithe vigorous body, the Don of unquestioning independence, had gone years before. Death had brought to an end joyless years of fading powers.
Don Lawler received his schooling at Wicklow Convent and at Clongowes Wood College. I first met him when we arrived together to start our noviceship at Tullabeg. His elder brother Brendan took his first vows on the morning after our arrival and he stayed on in Tullabeg for a short time to act as Don's angelus, The Don of noviceship days was in most ways very like the Don of full maturity. He already had a sturdy distaste for loose thinking and for conventional expression or manifestation of piety. Eschewing gush, he had an unrivalled grasp of the theological and spiritual principles underlying noviceship training and the whole Jesuit life. He took his vows in the ambulacrum in Emo Park (newly acquired as the noviciate house) on 2nd September 1930.
He might have been miserable if he had been asked to do an arts degree in the juniorate. It is hard to imagine Don labouring over Wordsworth or Mrs Gaskell. In fact, he worked for a BSc in physics and chemistry. Clear theory derived from exact experiment was what he seemed made for. Philosophy also suited him; Platonism would have seemed to him to be merely sublime vagueness. If he had been born in another age, Descartes' clear and distinct ideas' might have won him: but as it was he found satisfaction in the highly rational Aristotelianism taught by Fr E Coyne. Philosophy always remained one of his major interests.
He had always been deeply interested in the missions, and he felt that one of his dearest dreams was being fulfilled when he was chosen for Hong Kong, along with Paddy Walsh and.me, in 1936.
My abiding friendship with Don dates from that time. In earlier years I had been mildly alarmed by his ruthless intellectualism and his black-and-white judgements on right and wrong, beauty and ugliness, sense and folly. A month with him in a two-man cabin in the Sua Maru was enough to teach me that I had found a true comrade, able to take peculiarities in his stride, and ready to depend on others and to have others depend on him. I never had to alter that judgement.
After two years of not very successful drudgery in the language school, there came the year in Wah Yan in the old Robinson Road building. In that year Don was not merely a teacher. He was a vigorous sportsmaster. He was deeply interested in the boys. He took part in nearly every school activity. In addition he began to make numerous friends round the city. Already, on the way to Hong Kong, he had been the social centre of the ship. Now he seemed to be on to becoming one of the people that everyone knows, almost a second and more scientific Fr George Byrne. The vitality he showed in that year was something unimagined by those who knew him only in later years..
In the summer of 1939, he and I were expecting to sail for Ireland, but the necessary documents did not arrive until later than the date on which Joe Howatson and Seán Turner had sailed in the previous year. When the documents did arrive, late in June, they contained bad news. Don was offered either immediate return to Ireland with removal from the Hong Kong Mission, or a ‘fourth year’ in Wah Yan. Without hesitation he chose the second alternative, and at once set about organising the tasks of the coming year, notably the forthcoming St Vincent de Paul Bazaar (the predecessor of the Caritas Bazaar).
Normally a fourth year in the colleges is a relatively unimportant setback not worthy of obituary mention. Don's fourth year was an exceptionally hard blow, and seems to have changed his whole life. In summer 1939, war was certain. If he did not sail at once, he would not return to Ireland for theology, and the suddenness of the change made this hard to bear. More important probably was the suggestion that he should consider leaving the Mission. He had always cherished missionary hopes; now a cloud had come over them. Joe Howatson, who probably knew Don better than any other Hong Kong Jesuit, once told me that Don had taken the fourth year as a condemnation of all his past expansiveness. Certainly, when I met him again after tertianship, all that side of his life seemed to have vanished, and he had largely withdrawn from the city into Wah Yan. He made friends through his educational committee work and through his abiding interest in games, but the old expansiveness was gone. I never discovered why he got the fourth year. To me he had seemed a model of what a scholastic in the way a college should be. My guess was some of his superiors had worked through mild suggestions and gentle hints, regarding these as sufficient indications of what they wanted to be done. Don, however, was never sensitive to hints. Anything less scientific than a clear and direct statement seemed contumacious when he was quite unconscious of ignoring orders.This, however, is only a guess.
In 1940, he went to Australia for theology, and he was ordained there in January 1944. He liked Australia, and he had many friends there from juniorate and philosophy days. In 1945 he went to Ireland for tertianship.
In 1946 he returned to Hong Kong to start the long career as senior science master that was to last till his strength ailed thirty years later. This was the main work of his Jesuit life, but there is little to be said about it. He was an outstanding and extremely conscientious teacher of physics to the higher forms, and he played a considerable part in the organisation of scientific teaching in the schools of Hong Kong. He was also always ready to take on the instruction of more intellectual converts whom others regarded as formidable. One of these converts is now a Dominican priest. In the 1960s one of the professors in the University of Hong Kong was waging an all too successful war for atheism. Don took him on in a radio debate and by cool and courteous logic won a striking victory that helped to diminish the professor's influence. This debate was almost his only dramatic incursion into public life in his long years as a priest-teacher.
In community life, however, he was no hermit. He was always ready to expound at length any theological, philosophical or scientific theory that came up. Sometimes his expositions would develop nearly into a lecture, but it was a good lecture, clear, orderly, full, and devoid of rhetorical irrelevance or dialectical tricks.
Over the years he was an unremitting student of the Bible, reading it over and over again. He was also careful to keep abreast of scientific progress. For diversion, more and more as the years went by, he turned to scientific fiction, the frivolous counterpart of his work. to him mere whimsy.
No account of Don would be completed without some reference to his congenital tidiness with both time and things. Every action seemed to have its exact un changeable time - his shower for instance at exactly 6.30 pm. If any visitor to his room moved an ashtray on his desk, Don would put it back where it had been, not chidingly, but because the ashtray had its own unchangeable place. In 1976 he had his first stroke. For a time he tried to carry on, hoping that by using a microphone he could still talk to his classes, but this proved impossible. After a second stroke he was given generous hospitality for some months by the ever-generous Columban Sisters in Ruttonjee Sanatorium. He returned to Wah Yan and was able to take a slight part in community life. He managed to attend his Golden Jubilee dinner for a short period. He was able to concelebrate Mass on extreme invalid terms. He could still read, and a fading memory enabled him to read and reread his favourite scientific fiction books with fresh interest at every reading. Another stroke transformed him into a complete invalid, and he was brought to St Paul's Hospital, Causeway Bay. His hospital room was comfortable and he had plenty of visitors, the Columban Sisters being exceptionally kind. Yet his complete dependence on others must have been galling to one of his independent character. His Cantonese had never been very good, and as his voice was failing he found it almost impossible to communicate with the hospital staff. It was decided that he would be happier in Ireland. He was far too ill to travel by an ordinary plane, but helpful authorities agreed to give him space in a spcae in a military Red Cross hospital plane. In Ireland, he went first to St Vincent's Hospital and then to Lisheen Nursing Home, Rathcoole, co. Dublin. His brother Brendan and Fr Vincent Murphy were assiduous visitors, despite ever increasing difficulty in communication.
He sank slowly but steadily. Those who visited him during holidays in Ireland brought sadder and sadder news, yet he did not seem to suffer much physically and the gradual dimming of his consciousness of this world probably lessened mental suffering. Always we were waiting for the last news. It came on December 4th.
He worked hard. He suffered much. God be with him. May he be with God.